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Archive for Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tips ensure pies come out just right for holiday

November 21, 2007

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Q: What is the best way to freeze a pumpkin pie?

If you'd like to prepare pumpkin pie ahead, it's easiest and safest to freeze just the crust. Add the filling to the frozen crust just before baking and bake as usual. It takes just a few minutes to mix together the ingredients. To save additional time, buy a pie filling with the spices already added, especially if you must buy extra spices just for your pie. As pumpkin pie is a perishable food and shouldn't be left at room temperature more than two hours, your pie is safer to eat when you bake it the day of your meal. Also, the quality of a freshly baked homemade pumpkin pie is usually higher than a frozen one.

As a second option, if you feel like you must freeze the entire pumpkin pie ahead of time, then freeze it unbaked. Prepare the pie shell and filling as usual. Have the filling cold before adding it to the unbaked, chilled pie shell. Package and freeze. When you are ready to use your pie, bake it without thawing at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees to finish baking. Use the pie within 4-5 weeks of freezing for best quality.

Just in case you're wondering, some commercial pumpkin pies that are purchased at room temperature may later need to be refrigerated. Check the label on commercially baked pies for storage requirements. Don't buy pies stored at room temperature if label directions are unclear or missing.

Q: Why is my pumpkin pie always very damp on top?

A: You may be overcooking it. As with any custard-type filling, when they are overcooked, the proteins are overdenatured and overcoagulated, causing a watery juice to form. This is called syneresis - the separation or "weeping" of liquid from a gel.

For best results, bake the pie in the lower third of the oven. To test for doneness, insert a knife about 1 to 1 1/2 inches from the center of the pie. It's done when the knife comes out clean. Tiny bubbles around the edge of the pie, or filling that separates from the crust, signifies overbaking, and you should remove the pie from the oven immediately.

Q: What's your recommendations for freezing other types of pies?

A: Here are some guidelines for freezing pies:

General information: Meringue toppings toughen in the freezer. Custard and cream pies get watery after thawing and aren't recommended for freezing.

Choose a pan suitable for the freezer, such as the disposable aluminum foil pie plates found in many supermarkets, or rust-proof metal pie pans. Freezer/ovenproof glass also might work but needs to be handled with more care.

If you're using an aluminum foil pie plate, compare its capacity to that of your regular pie pan. An easy way to obtain a general idea of differing volumes is to fill your regular pie pan with water. Then pour the water into the foil pan. Measure the amount of liquid left in your regular pan; reduce the amount of filling by about that much.

A soggy crust can be a problem with frozen filled pies. Brush the inside of the bottom crust lightly with melted butter or margarine before adding the fill to help prevent a soggy crust.

As filled pies are higher in moisture content and take longer to cool/heat/reheat than other baked goods, pies can be trickier to freeze than many foods. The best advice: Do a trial run with freezing a favorite pie before you freeze it for a special event.

Unbaked pie crust: Prepare your regular crust recipe. Place in a freezer-suitable pie plate. If the pastry will be baked unfilled, prick the bottom of the crust in several places. Stack the pie pans, separating them with two layers of freezer paper. Put in a freezer bag or overwrap with aluminum foil. To use while still frozen, bake at 475 degrees until light brown (about 8 to 10 minutes) or add filling to the frozen crust and bake as usual.

Suggested freezer storage time: 6 to 8 weeks.

Fruit, mince, nut pies, unbaked: Prepare as usual. The flavor of a pie is fresher when it's frozen before baking. Some sources suggest using quick-cooking tapioca to thicken pie filling instead of your usual thickener. Cornstarch and flour are more likely to separate when the pie is thawed.

Here are some general guidelines if you'd like to adapt your recipe for quick-cooking tapioca: Approximately 1 tablespoon of quick-cooking tapioca is equal to 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch or 1 tablespoon flour. Mix the fruit, tapioca, sugar and flavorings and let stand in a bowl for 15 minutes before placing in your pie shell. This helps the tapioca hydrate and absorb the fruit juice. If you find that juicier pies tend to boil over more when baked from the frozen state, add an extra tablespoon of tapioca next time.

When freezing unbaked pies with light-colored fruits - such as apples, peaches, pears and apricots - be aware these fruits may turn dark. The quickest way to prevent this is to treat them with a commercial anti-browning product for fruit, such as Ever-Fresh or Fruit-Fresh. These are found in most supermarkets in the food-preservation supplies section. Follow package directions.

Do not cut vents in the top crust before freezing. When ready to bake, cut vents in the upper crust. Place pan on a foil-covered cookie sheet and bake without thawing at 450 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Placing a cookie sheet under the pie helps it bake more evenly and protects your oven should any juices bubble over. Then bake for 20-30 minutes at 375 degrees until the top crust is brown.

As pies, pie plates and ovens vary, adjust time and temperature as needed.

As a test of when your pie has warmed, "Joy of Cooking" (Scibner) suggests heating until a knife inserted through a steam vent on top of your pie comes out warm. If the edges of your pie crust are browning too quickly, crimp strips of foil, shiny side up, around the rim of your crust. About a 2-inch-wide strip should be sufficient for covering your crust edges. Suggested freezer storage time 3-4 months.

Fruit, mince, nut pies, baked: Make as usual. Cool as rapidly as possible on a wire cooling rack. (Note: Pies baked in metal rather than glass pie plates will cool faster.) Freeze and then wrap. It's easier to wrap a pie after freezing.

To serve, thaw in the refrigerator and serve chilled or reheat in a 325-degree oven until warm. Suggested freezer storage time: 3-4 months.

Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.

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